APOLOGETICS: What's the Point?


Please forgive the following personal comments, but perhaps someone out there has had the same jarring experience, and can shed light on the situation I describe here.

It occurred to me recently that, in over twenty years of studying and arguing Christian theology and apologetics (both as a Protestant, and now as a Catholic), I have never once, to my knowledge, convinced anyone of anything. Not one person, that I’m aware of, has ever changed his viewpoint on the basis of any argument made by me. This struck me like a fist from heaven. It also holds true regarding the theory of evolution, which I’ve studied deeply, and which is a particular passion of mine. As far as I can discern, no one has ever adopted evolution as a scientific position due to my argumentation on its behalf.

Now, there seem to be only limited possibilities here: Either 1) I seriously lack the necessary skills required to make a cogent and compelling argument for the two subjects that I’ve studied for a lifetime and know the most about, or 2) sound arguments (and thus truth) actually have almost nothing whatsoever to do with why nearly all people hold the particular beliefs they do.

Either way, it seems that I’ve wasted most of my life. As St. Thomas Aquinas concluded just before abandoning his Summa Theologiae and leaving it unfinished: “All is straw!”


Dominus vobiscum,




Do not despair because it is not you who will convert anyone but the Holy Spirit. He may use your apologetics efforts though to convert someone many years later so He allowed you to plant that mustard seed and others watered it and kept it free of weeds because this is how it seems to work every time.

Listen to what Converts have said, “I heard xyz from someone A years ago but I wasn’t ready for that message until I heard zyx from someone else, then I started to think about it and started to study and I found EWTN/Catholic Answers//?? and now, I am a Catholic!”

What made you convert from Protestantism to Catholicism? Think about that and then know that “all is straw” is the tinder that starts the fire;).

Brenda V.

Brenda V.


So, let me tell you a story:

There is a sidewalk counselor who faithfully counsels outside an abortion clinic in Houston, TX (where I used to live). He has been counseling there for over a decade, close to 15 years now.

Three summers ago, there he was doing what he does every Saturday. A car pulled up and a woman got out and introduced her 12 year old grandson. She told the counselor that all those years ago he had given information to her daughter and that she subsequently decided not to abort. She introduced him to the child he saved that day without ever knowing it.

All along in our lives, we believe we are not having an impact, when we are and never know.

You cannot know what seeds you’ve planted, what impact you’ve had, and who may in the future investigate Catholicism based on what you’ve said. You will likely never know, maybe in heaven you will.

And, even if you really didn’t impact one single person, you are doing what the Lord commanded which is the most important reason of all to do anything.

So, keep doing what you are doing.


Why apologetics? As the Second Vatican Council declared (Dignitatis Humanae):

“The disciple is bound by a grave obligation toward Christ, his Master, ever more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it.”

As for not getting results, St. Pius X said (E Supremi):

“It may be that the fruit of our labors may be slow in coming, but charity wearies not with waiting, knowing that God prepares His rewards not for the results of toil but for the good will shown in it.”


You may or may not know if you’ve helped anyone at some level. Even if you have not seen the conversion of anyone, remember, planting seeds is important.

And remember that apologetics is what caused the conversion of guys like Tim Staples and especially the enflaming of the faith of many lukewarm Catholics.


Don my brother in the Lord: Remember it’s not about you or us who try to spread the Gospel, it’s all about Jesus. If you look at His own public ministry, He had about 120 followers at the time of His ascension. Look at the number of followers now, much later.

We as individuals can only plant the seed of faith, the Holy Spirit must do the rest. And it is probably a good thing we don’t see the results of our efforts so often, or else we would begin to boast and become prideful, which we must not do.

So rest assured as long as each of us does the will of our Heavenly Father, He can handle the rest. None of us can change anyone else, only the Holy Spirit and that person him/herself.

Peace Be With You


Don’t now if I converted anybody, but I had a few talks where I was told afterwards: Whoa, I always thought Catholics would REALLY worship Mary/the Pope! That’s weird!

They believed me (tryed to be in love and truth, but alas, I am rather hot-headed :smiley: ) and even if they are not Catholic now, they now at least that some/most assertions are false and are really more friendly about the Church in general.


All of the above, PLUS, we are required, due to our Baptism and again by our Confirmation, to inform people of the TRUTH of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church.
You’ve wasted nothing. You’ve done what we are all supposed to do, and I will keep on doing it, evident results or not, by the grace of Jesus Christ, until I die. :cool:
There just is no other choice.


I was having a thought like this myself, but with a slight variation:

I think people just like to argue…especially anonymously on the internet.

Also, folks – there are tons of books out there already written about all these subjects.

If you have an issue with a Catholic belief I am sure that there is a book written out there already to address this. Just go read it.


Thanks for the replies so far. Wise counsel, all. I realize that it’s the Holy Spirit who ultimately converts a person. I just thought that, if he’s actually working through me to that end, I might have seen some evidence of it by now. At least one example? Also, I understand about the principle of seed-planting, but thanks for the reminder. However, a farmer who hasn’t witnessed a single sprout appearing above the soil might well begin to think he was doing something wrong, that the soil was contaminated, or that his seed was somehow defective. Ah, well, we do our best.




Hi Don,

I have never once, to my knowledge, convinced anyone of anything

It is one of the cardinal principles of Dale Carnegie’s How to make friends and influence people. We can never win an argument or convince people of anything. We can only indirectly bring them to our point of view.

In religious matters, “indirectly” means showing by our lives and attitudes, while answering someone’s concerns, that we are true and loving Christians. As for the rest, it is God that does the converting. Prayer is of the essence.



Mostly, I see it as a defensive proposition. One day, I just got fed up when I did not have a ten-cent reply (I had the five-dollar answer, but that was too much) when a Protestant challenged me about “worshiping statues.” I decided then and there that I wouldn’t try to convert anybody (as you say, I don’t work nohow with apologetics) but I would at least not stand there with my mouth open lookin’ like a jerk.

Trouble is, except on these boards, where we get some give-and-take, those sidewalk anti-Catholic snipers generally just run away when they encounter a Catholic who actually HAS an answer for them and who can match them Book-Chapter-and-Verse from Scripture.


I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech.

The State Department and Reagan’s own speechwriters kept trying to pull his characterization of the Soviet Union from the speech. He kept putting it back in.

When he delivered the speech, it was reproduced within the underground samizdat press behind the Iron Curtain. It made its way to the gulags, where it greatly heartened political prisoners.

Reagan didn’t hear until much later what impact his words had on those crushed under tyranny’s heel. The impact was felt nonetheless.

Reporter Bob Novak converted to Catholicism after attending Mass with his wife for 30 years as non-Catholics. Novak met with a young woman at a dinner who told him she was Catholic and asked him why he didn’t join the Church. She told him, “Time is short but eternity is forever.”

Years later, he tracked her down. She was not a Catholic and had no memory of saying such a thing to him, but also, oddly, felt as though she may have done so.

The point is this:

We do not engage in apologetics out of pride, but out of love for God and a talent for sharing our faith with others. It does not matter if to our knowledge not a single person listens to us, much less converts as a result of our efforts. God grants grace to those whom He chooses to grant grace to.

We do our part, and do so for love of the Lord. We err when we demand evidence of our effectiveness as it is not our effectiveness nor ineffectiveness which is determinative here.

The goal is not to win an argument but to serve God.


From The Bible Christian Society
Apologetics 101-01

Q: What does the word “apologetics” mean?

A: The word “apologetics” is derived from the ancient Greek word apologia, which means, an apology. Not an apology in the modern sense of the word - which is to say you’re sorry for something. But rather, an apology in the ancient sense of the word - which is to make a reasoned defense of something or someone. In ancient times, the word apology referred to the case a lawyer would make on behalf of his client.

Apologetics is about building the case for our Faith…learning how to explain and defend our Faith. Basically, there are 3 types of apologetics: natural apologetics, Christian apologetics, and Catholic apologetics. Natural apologetics builds the case for truths we can know from the “natural” light of reason. Truths that can be known without any divine intervention. Truths which the articles of our Faith rest upon and build upon. Truths such as the existence of God, the innate spirituality of the human soul, the objective reality of right and wrong…truths that our faith rest upon and build upon.

Christian apologetics, on the other hand, builds the case for divinely revealed truths - truths that cannot be known by reason apart from faith. Truths such as the reality of biblical miracles, the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection to name a few.

Catholic apologetics encompasses all of Christian apologetics - since Catholicism is the fullness of Christianity - but Catholic apologetics tends to focus on those truths of Christianity that are not generally believed by non-Catholic Christians. Truths such as: the Catholic Church having been founded directly by Jesus Christ; the papacy; the Sacraments; the Immaculate Conception, and others.

Again, the 3 main types of apologetics are: natural apologetics, Christian apologetics, and Catholic apologetics…we will be focusing mainly on Catholic apologetics - how to explain and defend the truths of our Catholic Faith.

Apologetics 101-02

Q: Are there any basic rules for doing apologetics?

A: We need to always keep in mind 1 Ptr 3:15 which says, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you…” Always be prepared Scripture tells us! So, how can we “always be prepared” to make a defense of our Faith?

Rule #1: Pray. Pray to the Holy Spirit. Pray that He will give you the courage to share your Faith and the wisdom to choose your words carefully and profitably.

Rule #2: You don’t have to know everything right now! Just learn a little bit more about your Faith each and every day. Read Scripture. Read the Catechism. Listen to apologetics tapes. Read books on or by the Saints. Learn a little bit at a time.

.Rule #3: Luke 5:10, "Do not be afraid, henceforth you will be catching men. "Jesus said this to Peter, but He’s also saying it to us. Will you make mistakes? Will you get into tight spots…when you start sharing your Faith with others? Of course you will, but Peter made mistakes! He got into tight spots. Yet, Jesus told Peter not to be afraid. Why? Because if we are sincere in our desire to share the truth with others…to share Jesus Christ with others…then Jesus will find a way to make something good come out of even our mistakes.

Rule #4: Always view a question about your Faith, or even an attack on your Faith, as an opportunity - an opportunity to share the truth. Stay calm and stay determined to bring light into darkness.

Rule #5: Don’t get frustrated. Quite often Catholics get frustrated by what I call the doctrinal dance…you get asked about Purgatory, Mary, the Pope, the Sacraments all in rapid fire succession. Before you can answer one question, you’re asked another. Just keep firmly, but gently, guiding the discussion back to one topic until you’ve said all you want to say…then move on.

Rule #6: Very, very important! Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” when asked a question about your Faith. Don’t try to “wing it.” However, always follow, “I don’t know,” with, “But, I will find out and get back to you.” And make sure you do!

If you follow these rules, you will be prepared the next time God puts you in a position to explain and defend your Faith.


Apologetics 101-03

Q: Anything else we need to know about apologetics before we start engaging in it?

A: A few more basics about apologetics before we move into specific apologetics topics:
#1) Ingrain this into your psyche…the Bible is a Catholic book! The Catholic Church gave it to the world! Which means that there is nothing…nothing!…in the Bible that is contrary to anything in the Catholic Faith and there is nothing in the Catholic Faith contrary to anything in the Bible! Always remember that!
This is important to keep in mind because a lot of times folks will quote a passage from the Bible that “proves” the Catholic Church is wrong. Whenever someone quotes you a Bible verse that “proves” the Catholic Church is wrong on something, your response should be, “Amen, I believe what the Bible says! As a Catholic, I believe everything the Bible says! However, I don’t agree with your personal interpretation of that passage.” The reason you don’t agree with their personal interpretation is because 100% of the time that you are presented with a verse that “proves” the Church wrong, either: a) the verse has been taken out of context, or b) the verse simply doesn’t say what they are trying to make it say.
#2) And this flows right from #1, the Catholic Church can be defended solely from the Bible better than any other Christian faith tradition can be. There is actually a good bit in the various Protestant faith traditions that does indeed contradict the Bible. So, do not be afraid to engage non-Catholics in a discussion of the Bible.
#3) If you are ever asked a question about your Faith that you cannot answer, don’t worry. There is an answer, you just need to go and find it. Simply respond, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.” Then find out and get back to them.
As Catholics, we need to reclaim the Bible. It is our book. We need to read it, pray it, learn it, and use it to bring our separated brothers and sisters back to the Church. If you keep these things in mind, you have started down the road to being a very effective apologist for the Catholic Faith.


Donald, this is not strictly an apologetics story, but it may help you to see what the other posters are saying.

I was in the hospital after having my fifth child. Tomorrow I was going home, and I was pretty depressed at the idea of what I’d have to do–there was probably no food and I’d have to take all five of the kids (ages 7, 5, 3, 2, and newborn) to shop. I was willing to bet there would be two days dishes in the sink–well, I think you can probably see how my thoughts were going.

About that time, Father Fred, the Chaplain of the hospital came in. I was a Protestant at that time, but it didn’t make any difference to him, and we had a nice ten minute chat. In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he had been a Chaplain in a big military establishment, and then he started tell about the “back wards” where the patients who were badly injured, “basket cases” with no arms or legs, those with only half a body–they never had visitors and would never go home.

After Father left I was thinking "what’s wrong with me? I have a beautiful new baby, four wonderful kids, a nice home to go back to, and the strength to take care of all of them!!!

I went to sleep that night looking forward to the time when my husband would pick me up, and I thought “Father Fred will never know what a difference he made in my life”. I still pray for him…:thumbsup:


Donald, why don’t you think about how many people (including third parties who overheard what you said to others, perhaps without your knowledge) as a result of your apologetics have: -

REMAINED Catholics/Christians because they could more easily spot errors and not fall prey to them ;
Remained practising Catholics/Christians;
become more confident and knowledgeable about their faith and able in turn to convert others to the faith;
changed from militantly anti-Catholic/Christian to tolerant or even sympathetic to Catholicism/Christianity;
or actually have converted to Catholicism/Christianity but they didn’t know your name or how to contact you, or were unable to contact you because they were disabled/dying etc. so they were unable to come back and thank you.

Surely there must be quite a few people in these categories?

Same goes for your scientific arguments.


join the club
very rarely is a person convinced of anything by one arguement, debate, exposition, explanation, plea or threat, no matter how skilled, knowledgeable, convincing, sincere, or authorotative the person giving the exposition. We know this is true because otherwise why would they show the same commercial 12 times during the same football game or movie? Very few if any people are going to jump up, rush out and buy the beer, car, air freshener, ED drug, vote for a candidate, or whatever, because of that commercial. Advertisers know very well that their job is to plant seeds. They first work on brand name recognition, and then on a key phrase or thought to implant in our brains.

Quick test on successful ad campaign slogans of the past–what brand name is being advertised?
less filling vs tastes great
live better electrically
plop plop fizz fizz
it just keeps going and going and going
John 3:16
a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace
unless a man leaves father and mother and takes up his cross to follow me he cannot be my disciple

the advertiser works subtly and overtly, in many ways, using many media, to plant a seed in your mind so that you will recall his product when you are at the point of purchase.

apologetics, and all catechesis, should work the same way. Begin by stating the core truth in simple terms, from authority–Christ, the gospels, the catechism etc.–in “sound bytes” that resonate with truth, contain key words, and can be recalled easily, and that prepare the mind to consider and think about the core truth, and want to “buy” or learn more. and yes Jesus used “sound bytes”, and followed them up, when the listener was ready for more exposition, explanation, depth and clarity.

The Clydesdales or the gecko should make me think about their product, but also spur me to take a positive action, when I am ready to purchase. The apologist should first plant the seed, and prepare the listener to take further action on his own initiative. In other words, leave 'em wanting more. In fact, sometimes it is counter-productive to pile argument upon argument before the listener asks for more info.

we also know this model is true because of the parable of the sower, and related parables, that remind us that others will harvest what the sower sows.


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